Q&A: James Morrison
"The Awakening" is more than the title of English singer/songwriter James Morrison's latest album. It's the way he felt while recording his most critically acclaimed album of his three-album career.
"I felt like I'd woken up to my life again," Morrison told SoundSpike. "I'd been on the road for the best part of three years. I had a little girl. My dad died. So, I don't know, it felt like I needed to reassess my life again. I just kind of felt like those things woke me up to what I needed to see. What was important. What I had to worry about and what I didn't have to worry about. A lot of the worries I had about being an artist went away when I went through that. I wanted [the album] to feel like an awakening to life and an awakening to me as an artist again."
Fans agreed. "The Awakening" debuted at No. 1 in the U.K., where it spent two weeks and has since been certified platinum, according to a press release. The album sold more than 1 million copies worldwide and has produced several hits including the first U.S. single, "I Won't Let You Go." The accompanying music video has had more than 19 million views.
Morrison described the album as an autobiographical collection that borrows from soul, folk, blues and pop-rock. He called "The Awakening" simpler than its predecessors, 2006's "Undiscovered" and 2008's "Songs for You, Truths for Me."
He spoke to SoundSpike about the death of his father, working with Jessie J., and those rambunctious American fans.
How's the tour going so far?
James Morrison: Yeah, good. It's been nice. We're in Colorado at the moment. We've been to L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and San Diego. We still have quite a bit to do.
You must be pretty pleased with the reception of "The Awakening." It's your most well-received album yet.
That's something to go by. My first two albums were shit. [Laughs] No, I'm really happy. I'm really stoked. Those songs came from a personal place. I'd be gutted if people weren't liking them. It's been amazing. It's been amazing so far. People know the words. They're singing along to the songs. American crowds are very fantastic. So it's all good.
You mentioned you lost your dad. My dad passed away as well. It was so sad and scary at the same time.
If you say, "I lost my dad," you don't feel like people know. You know. Only those really close people to you fully understand and know what it's like. Before I lost my dad, if someone said, "I lost my dad," I'd say, "I'm sorry to hear it." I wouldn't really know what they're on about. You know what I mean? It's such a personal thing. Sometimes I can't talk about it. But I still protect myself when I talk about it because it's such a personal thing.
Did you say you had a little girl as well?
Yeah, she's 3 1/2 now.
That must have been very inspirational.
Yeah, amazing time. [Laughs] Very scary. I had to go on tour and pretty much, my album came out the day after my daughter was born. I had to get on the road. I wasn't there for a lot of the first year or so.
How is it now?
Yeah good, really good. She actually acknowledges that I'm gone now. Before, she just sort of gone on about it. I really have a beautiful relationship with my daughter. When I am home, I am very dedicated.
What was the songwriting process like for "The Awakening"?
It took a while. It took the best part of a year and a half. I started writing about a year and a half before I finished the album and then six months into that, I lost my dad. Everything got put on hold for a long time, for about two months, three months. Then I got into the studio again. Before my dad died, I had "Slave to the Music," "The Awakening," "Up," "One Life" and then after my dad died, I had songs like "6 Weeks," "In My Dreams," "Beautiful Life" and "Say Something Now." Everything else just kind of came after that, really. It was like two halves; they all just joined together, luckily. On one hand, it was quite personal. On the other hand, I wanted it to be accessible to people. I wanted people to feel good when they listen to it, not get down. Songs like "Slave to the Music" [are] just a good balance. "The Awakening" kind of fit in lyrically with what I wanted to talk about, at the same time it's a good vibe to keep it up as well. I didn't want it to be a downer album.
How was it to work with Jessie J on "Up"?
Yeah, she's a very fast-paced sort of girl, you know. When I first met her, I couldn't keep up with her, to be honest. I take my time and be subtle and get to know people slowly. She's wham bam in-your-face, quite full-on, straight away. It was a little intimidating, I suppose. After she was doing her vocals, I had to give her a little bit of guidance and stuff. I had to be straight with her. After we got stuck into it, she's really nice. She's really funny. When I was chatting to her, we were getting on really well. Every time I saw her after that, it was a lot easier. But the first initial time, we didn't have a lot of time to do it. She was busy. I was kind of busy doing stuff. So it was a bit hectic when we met up. But by the time she finished the song I was totally stoked with it. She sounded wicked on it and that was the main thing I was worried about really, was getting the song to sound good. She did that. Yeah, it was sick.
It must be fun to do duets.
Yeah, especially when it's a completely different sort of artist. It can make you feel like you notice all the differences between [us] in a good way, as well. When I watched her do her thing, it was really inspiring to kind of see her doing all this singing stuff I never heard anyone do. She did some stuff that was so amazing ,but it was never gonna go on the song. It didn't fit in. But she can pretty much do anything with her vocals. It was really fun getting her to do what I wanted her to do. But I let her do her own thing on it as well. She delivered it; she was great.
Why did you choose Jessie J?
She was one of the obvious people to choose in my mind. She's got a great voice. She's different from me as an artist. I think people would have been surprised if they heard we were working together. I just wanted a bit of that really. I didn't want it to be to sort of straightforward. Like, Adele's amazing. She's got an amazing voice and I love her voice. I'd love to work with Adele. But I just felt like it would be better to have someone who's a little more different as an artist. Me and Adele are pretty much in the same box in the sense that we're trying to do classic songwriting and we use our voice to get it across and stuff. Whereas Jessie's more [of a ] pop sort of R&B, but she's got a great voice as well. I just thought that was [different] with Jessie. [The song] would reach a larger audience. That's the main goal for me if I'm doing a duet. I want to do it because I like the voice and I want to open it out as well, as a song to reach other people who wouldn't normally listen to my music.
Do you see any differences between British and American fans?
Well, in general I think the American fans are a little bit more excited to see me live. I haven't really come over here for a while with a full band. It's a little bit more weepy and hollery than normal. It's sick. I love coming out. I don't mind it. I'm getting a fat cheer. I didn't get cheers in England. It's a different thing though. You get praised in a different way in England. It's more subtle. If they really like it, they'll clap, go "Yeah!" In America they'll really know when they like it. It always feels like it's too much sometimes. I'll be talking and I'll get a cheer for talking. That never happens to me. I'm telling a little story and I wait for them to listen to the song but then they clap because of what I said. Oh that's all right. Americans' clapping is sick. They're just on fire when I come out. They're raring to go. Even the L.A. gig was really good. I was kind of expecting it to be a little more laid back. It was a little more laid back than San Fran and some other places. Considering how much live music they see in L.A. and stuff, they're still pretty up for it. It's been good.
Are you doing any covers on this tour?
I used to do loads of covers. I think I've mainly been concentrating on doing my own stuff. But I did do the other night a version of "Master Blaster" with my band. My band is pretty good. We used to do it ,but we haven't played it in a while. We just knocked it out. I don't know, really. We might do one every other night.
What can we expect from your live show?
I'm gonna just play what I think people want to hear and what I want to play. I'll play some old stuff from the first album and the second album and play some new stuff as well. I'm just excited about in general playing live. I'll give people what they want, don't worry about that. They come see me and they want to hear a song, then they're probably going to hear it. I had a guy the other night -- I haven't played "[The] Pieces Don't Fit [Anymore]"-- and he wanted to hear it every time he's seen me, which is three times. I haven't played it, and he's getting pretty irate about it. [With dead-on American accent] "You never play 'Pieces Don't Fit, man. You never fucking play it." I'm sorry, man. I just try and play the ones that people want to hear, basically. But it'll be a rockin' show, man. It's going to be a good show. I have my full band over. If people are coming to see me thinking, "It's just ah, little James Morrison with his guitar and his love songs," I think they'll be a little bit surprised. We have quite a rockin' little band now. They'll get a proper nice little show.
10 - St. Paul, MN - Fitzgerald Theater
12 - Nashville, TN - Cannery Ballroom
14 - Philadelphia, PA - World Cafe Live
15 - New York City, NY - Webster Hall
16 - Washington, D.C. - 9:30 Club
19 - Boston, MA- Royale Nightclub Boston
28 - Landgraaf, Netherlands - Megaland (Pinkpop Festival)
17 - Oslo, Norway - Frognerparken (Norwegian Wood Festival)
20 - Surrey, England - Hampton Court Palace (Hampton Court Palace Festival)
29 - Oxon, England - Great Tew Estate (Cornbury Music Festival)
1 - Werchter, Belgium - Festivalpark (Rock Werchter Festival)
8 - Kinross, Scotland - Balado (T in the Park)
3 - Zambujeira do Mar, Portugal - Festival Sudoeste Grounds